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Mol Microbiol. 1998 Jul;29(2):629-39.

Exochelin genes in Mycobacterium smegmatis: identification of an ABC transporter and two non-ribosomal peptide synthetase genes.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson 39216, USA.


Many strains of mycobacteria produce two ferric chelating substances that are termed exochelin (an excreted product) and mycobactin (a cell-associated product). These agents may function as iron acquisition siderophores. To examine the genetics of the iron acquisition system in mycobacteria, ultraviolet (UV) and transposon (Tn611) mutagenesis techniques were used to generate exochelin-deficient mutants of Mycobacterium smegmatis strains ATCC 607 and LR222 respectively. Mutants were identified on CAS siderophore detection agar plates. Comparisons of the amounts of CAS-reactive material excreted by the possible mutant strains with that of the wild-type strains verified that seven UV mutant strains and two confirmed transposition mutant strains were deficient in exochelin production. Cell-associated mycobactin production in the mutants appeared to be normal. From the two transposon mutants, the mutated gene regions were cloned and identified by colony hybridization with an IS6100 probe, and the DNA regions flanking the transposon insertion sites were then used as probes to clone the wild-type loci from M. smegmatis LR222 genomic DNA. Complementation assays showed that an 8 kb PstI fragment and a 4.8 kb PstI/SacI subclone of this fragment complemented one transposon mutant (LUN2) and one UV mutant (R92). A 10.1 kb SacI fragment restored exochelin production to the other transposon mutant (LUN1). The nucleotide sequence of the 15.3 kb DNA region that spanned the two transposon insertion sites overlapped the 5' region of the previously reported exochelin biosynthetic gene fxbA and contained three open reading frames that were transcribed in the opposite orientation to fxbA. The corresponding genes were designated exiT, fxbB and fxbC. The deduced amino acid sequence of ExiT suggested that it was a member of the ABC transporter superfamily, while FxbB and FxbC displayed significant homology with many enzymes (including pristinamycin I synthetase) that catalyse non-ribosomal peptide synthesis. We propose that the peptide backbone of the siderophore exochelin is synthesized in part by enzymes resembling non-ribosomal peptide synthetases and that the ABC transporter ExiT is responsible for exochelin excretion.

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